Facebook Portal+ review

The Portal is a head scratcher. It’s a chat app that manifested itself into a hardware through sheer force of will. The first commercially available product from Building 8 isn’t as instantly iconic a piece of hardware as Snap’s Spectacles. In fact, at first glance, the device seems like little more than an Echo Show/Google Home Hub competitor.

And then there’s the matter of timing. In a meeting with TechCrunch ahead of launch, Facebook’s hardware team was quick to list the various ways the company is proactively protecting user privacy, from a camera button to a physical lens cap. The social media giant has always been a lighting rod for these issues, but 2018 has been particularly tough, for reasons summed up well in Taylor’s simply titled post, “Facebook, are you kidding?

What’s most peculiar, however, is in this age of multi-tasking devices, the Facebook Portal and Portal+

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Facebook starts shipping Portal, clarifies privacy/ad policy

Planning to get in early on the Portal phenomenon? Facebook announced today that it’s starting to ship the video chat device. The company’s first true piece of devoted hardware comes in two configurations: the Echo Show-like Portal and the larger Portal+ . Which run $199 and $349, respectively. There’s also a two-fer $298 bundle on the smaller unit.

The device raised some privacy red flags since it was announced early last month. The company attempted to nip some of the those issues in the bud ahead of launch — after all, 2018 hasn’t been a great year for Facebook privacy. The site also hasn’t done itself any favors by offering some murky comments around data tracking and ad targeting in subsequent weeks.

With all that in mind, Facebook is also marking the launch with a blog post further spelling out Portal’s privacy policy. Top level, the company promises not to

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Samsung’s dual-screen folding phone is very strange and probably doomed

Let me just say that I love the idea of a folding phone/tablet device. I was a Courier fanboy when Microsoft floated that intriguing but abortive concept device, and I’m all for unique form factors and things that bend. But Samsung’s first real shot at a folding device is inexplicable and probably dead on arrival. I’d like to congratulate the company for trying something new, but this one needed a little more time in the oven.

I haven’t used it, of course, so this is just my uninformed opinion (provided for your edification). But this device is really weird, and not in a good way. It’s a really thick phone with big bezels around an small screen that opens up into a small tablet. No one wants that! Think about it. Why do you want a big screen? If it’s for media, like most people, consider that nearly all that
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Here’s what Samsung’s wacky folding phone looks like in action

As rumored, Samsung showed off a prototype of a folding display today. Folded, it’s a smartphone. Unfolded, it’s a tablet. Neat!

Less neat: The company sort of went out of its way to not really show very much. A prototype was onstage for about 45 seconds, and it was deliberately backlit to be intensely silhouetted. They “disguised the elements of the design” to keep secret whatever secret sauce they have. Finding that clip of the prototype folding/unfolding means digging through Samsung’s two-hour developer keynote, so we went ahead and GIF’d it up for you. Here’s what it looks like going from phone mode to tablet mode: And from tablet mode back to a more pocket-friendly phone mode: While this isn’t the first folding phone we’ve seen , it also won’t be the last. With Google officially adding support for folding displays into Android as of this morning, it
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TwelveSouth put a wireless charger in a picture frame

TwelveSouth is one of the most innovative Mac accessory companies out there. From its PlugBug adapter to the AirFly bluetooth headphone receiver, the company makes clever, well-produced products. But the PowerPic — I dunno, man.

I’m sure the build quality is there, as with its other offerings. New Zealand pine sounds nice. At its heart, though, the product is really a wood box around a wireless charging stand. “Wireless charging is awesome, but adding yet another charging gadget to your bedside table is not,” says the press material.

So TwelveSouth built a picture frame with Qi charging built in to hide your gadget-owning shame. It’s a real picture frame — one designed to put real pictures in. Then you place your phone on top. So when it’s not charging, it’s a picture frame. Kind of like how the Google Home Hub or Facebook Portal turn into digital picture frames when

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Amazon Echo and Alexa arrive in Mexico

Alexa’s path to AI global domination continues apace with the addition of Mexico to its growing list of markets. Amazon today opened up pre-orders for the Echo, Dot, Plus, Spot and  Smart Plug. The devices are set to start shipping next week.

Of course, bringing such devices to new markets is more complicated than just supply chain issues. Ever new location means new accents and cultural nuances.

Amazon brought the Alexa to Spain earlier this year, but the the distinction between that brand of Spanish and the one spoken in Mexico is broad enough to require some massive changes, not to mention a spate of different local customs that need to be adhered to with the building of Skills. 

The smart assistant is currently available in around 40 countries, including the addition of Italy and Spain late last month. Google’s Assistant, meanwhile, launched in Mexico over the summer

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TWIICE One Exoskeleton furthers the promise of robotic mobility aids

Few things in the world of technology can really ever be said to be “done,” and certainly exoskeletons are not among their number. They exist, but they are all works in progress, expensive, heavy, and limited. So it’s great to see this team working continuously on their TWIICE robotic wearable, improving it immensely with the guidance of motivated users.

TWIICE made its debut in 2016, and like all exoskeletons it was more promise made than promise kept. It’s a lower-half exoskeleton that supports and moves the legs of someone with limited mobility, while they support themselves on crutches. It’s far from ideal, and the rigidity and weight of systems like this make them too risky to deploy at scale for now. But two years of refinement have made a world of difference. The exoskeleton weighs the same (which doesn’t matter since it carries its own weight), but supports heavier users
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The ultimate guide to gifting STEM toys: tons of ideas for little builders

The holiday season is here again, touting all sorts of kids’ toys that pledge to pack ‘STEM smarts’ in the box, not just the usual battery-based fun.

Educational playthings are nothing new, of course. But, in recent years, long time toymakers and a flurry of new market entrants have piggybacked on the popularity of smartphones and apps, building connected toys for even very young kids that seek to tap into a wider ‘learn to code’ movement which itself feeds off worries about the future employability of those lacking techie skills. Whether the lofty educational claims being made for some of these STEM gizmos stands the test of time remains to be seen. Much of this sums to clever branding. Though there’s no doubt a lot of care and attention has gone into building this category out, you’ll also find equally eye-catching price-tags. Whatever STEM toy you buy there’s a high chance
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Watch biotech startups pitch at IndieBio’s demo day today

IndieBio, the biotech startup accelerator that’s produced heaps of notable companies (including several that have graced the Startup Battlefield), is holding its twice-annual demo day today at 3PM Pacific Time. An even dozen young companies will be pitching their work, from AI-informed research to artificial meat, and you can watch them present live right here.

The IndieBio program is a four-month one that takes companies at the seed stage, often researchers straight out of graduate programs or university research groups, and gets them into shape for a proper Silicon Valley debut. Right now the companies get $250K in funding to take part, as well as plenty of resources, which parent VC firm SOSV can surely afford these days, what with raising $150 million last year. Off the top of my head I remember two companies that competed at Disrupt SF 2016, Amaryllis Nucleics and mFluiDx, both very technical and
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Fantasmo pivots to scooter cameras that keep them off sidewalks

GPS is too inaccurate to tell if a scooter is being driven or parked in off-limits areas. But as scooter startups compete for permits from city governments, they need a way to prove their riders play by the rules. That’s where Fantasmo’s new scooter positioning camera comes in.

The augmented reality mapping startup had been building the Camera Positioning Standard to give self-driving cars, robots and AR games a dynamically updated understanding of the real world around them. But now Fantasmo is focusing on the urgent use case of scooter accountability. Its camera attaches to personal electric vehicles, captures video and matches that against Fantasmo’s map to reliably identify if a scooter is being illegally ridden on the sidewalk or parked in the middle of the walkway. Scooter companies could make their vehicles beep and slowly lose acceleration where not allowed, issue fines for parking in the wrong spot,
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$30 wireless earbuds? Sure, why not?

I mean, I can think of a few reasons why not, but Xiaomi generally makes pretty reliable consumer electronics, and the company’s rock-bottom prices have disrupted other markets, like fitness trackers.

Spotted by Engadget, the Chinese smartphone maker’s $30 AirDots are completely wireless earbuds, designed to compete with the likes of AirPods and Pixel Buds, but at a fraction of the price. Price has long been one of the key factors slowing the more widespread adoption of the technology, and, if nothing else, Xiaomi proves it can be done on the very cheap.

The AirDots appear to be China-only for now, priced at 199 yuan, or around $29. The buds themselves should give you five hours of life, courtesy of Bluetooth 5.0, with a total of 12 including the charging case.

Honestly, that’s not bad at all for the price. Sound quality is another question entirely, of course.

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MacBook Air review

For three years, the MacBook Air was conspicuously absent. The ultraportable never left Apple’s site, of course, but we finished keynote after keynote wondering why Apple continued to neglect one of its most popular products, all while overhauling the rest of the MacBook line.

At an event last month in Brooklyn, however, Apple finally acquiesced, delivering the largest single update since the product was introduced ten and a half years prior. In an event stuffed to the gills with an enthusiastic audience, the Air got what was easily the biggest applause break — more than the iPad Pro and certainly more than the Mac Mini. The fan base was clearly ready for a new Air. Getting the Air right is a tricky proposition. Not only is it the slimmest model in the line, it’s also the cheapest, a combination that’s made it a popular selection for frequent travelers and those
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Mac Mini review

At last month’s Apple event, the Mac Mini was greeted like a returning hero. Maybe it was the over the top space advert or the fact that the company had packed the seats of the Brooklyn opera house full of local employees.

Most likely, however, it had at least a little to do with the return of an Apple line that had seemingly been forgotten. Like the MacBook Air, the plucky little desktop had been ostensibly abandoned. In the four years since its last meaningful update, the Mini had been encased in amber, seemingly a relic of Apple’s past.

The phrase in science is “Lazarus taxon,” the return of a grouping that had seemingly been lost to history. Granted, Apple continued to stock the Mini, but in the rapidly evolving world of computer components, a four-year system might as well be an artifact from some long-forgotten ancient civilization.

Among other

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Subterranean drone mapping startup Emesent raises $2.5M to autonomously delve the deep

Seemingly every industry is finding ways to use drones in some way or another, but deep underground it’s a different story. In the confines of a mine or pipeline, with no GPS and little or no light, off-the-shelf drones are helpless — but an Australian startup called Emesent is giving them the spatial awareness and intelligence to navigate and map those spaces autonomously.

Drones that work underground or in areas otherwise inaccessible by GPS and other common navigation techniques are being made possible by a confluence of technology and computing power, explained Emesent CEO and co-founder Stefan Hrabar. The work they would take over from people is the epitome of “dull, dirty, and dangerous” — the trifecta for automation. The mining industry is undoubtedly the most interested in this sort of thing; mining is necessarily a very systematic process and one that involves repeated measurements of areas being blasted, cleared,
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Subterranean drone mapping startup Emesent raises $2.5M to autonomously delve the deep

Seemingly every industry is finding ways to use drones in some way or another, but deep underground it’s a different story. In the confines of a mine or pipeline, with no GPS and little or no light, off-the-shelf drones are helpless — but an Australian startup called Emesent is giving them the spatial awareness and intelligence to navigate and map those spaces autonomously.

Drones that work underground or in areas otherwise inaccessible by GPS and other common navigation techniques are being made possible by a confluence of technology and computing power, explained Emesent CEO and co-founder Stefan Hrabar. The work they would take over from people is the epitome of “dull, dirty, and dangerous” — the trifecta for automation. The mining industry is undoubtedly the most interested in this sort of thing; mining is necessarily a very systematic process and one that involves repeated measurements of areas being blasted, cleared,
Continue reading "Subterranean drone mapping startup Emesent raises $2.5M to autonomously delve the deep"

Subterranean drone mapping startup Emesent raises $2.5M to autonomously delve the deep

Seemingly every industry is finding ways to use drones in some way or another, but deep underground it’s a different story. In the confines of a mine or pipeline, with no GPS and little or no light, off-the-shelf drones are helpless — but an Australian startup called Emesent is giving them the spatial awareness and intelligence to navigate and map those spaces autonomously.

Drones that work underground or in areas otherwise inaccessible by GPS and other common navigation techniques are being made possible by a confluence of technology and computing power, explained Emesent CEO and co-founder Stefan Hrabar. The work they would take over from people is the epitome of “dull, dirty, and dangerous” — the trifecta for automation. The mining industry is undoubtedly the most interested in this sort of thing; mining is necessarily a very systematic process and one that involves repeated measurements of areas being blasted, cleared,
Continue reading "Subterranean drone mapping startup Emesent raises $2.5M to autonomously delve the deep"

Subterranean drone mapping startup Emesent raises $2.5M to autonomously delve the deep

Seemingly every industry is finding ways to use drones in some way or another, but deep underground it’s a different story. In the confines of a mine or pipeline, with no GPS and little or no light, off-the-shelf drones are helpless — but an Australian startup called Emesent is giving them the spatial awareness and intelligence to navigate and map those spaces autonomously.

Drones that work underground or in areas otherwise inaccessible by GPS and other common navigation techniques are being made possible by a confluence of technology and computing power, explained Emesent CEO and co-founder Stefan Hrabar. The work they would take over from people is the epitome of “dull, dirty, and dangerous” — the trifecta for automation. The mining industry is undoubtedly the most interested in this sort of thing; mining is necessarily a very systematic process and one that involves repeated measurements of areas being blasted, cleared,
Continue reading "Subterranean drone mapping startup Emesent raises $2.5M to autonomously delve the deep"

Subterranean drone mapping startup Emesent raises $2.5M to autonomously delve the deep

Seemingly every industry is finding ways to use drones in some way or another, but deep underground it’s a different story. In the confines of a mine or pipeline, with no GPS and little or no light, off-the-shelf drones are helpless — but an Australian startup called Emesent is giving them the spatial awareness and intelligence to navigate and map those spaces autonomously.

Drones that work underground or in areas otherwise inaccessible by GPS and other common navigation techniques are being made possible by a confluence of technology and computing power, explained Emesent CEO and co-founder Stefan Hrabar. The work they would take over from people is the epitome of “dull, dirty, and dangerous” — the trifecta for automation. The mining industry is undoubtedly the most interested in this sort of thing; mining is necessarily a very systematic process and one that involves repeated measurements of areas being blasted, cleared,
Continue reading "Subterranean drone mapping startup Emesent raises $2.5M to autonomously delve the deep"

Hey look, it’s a new Barnes & Noble Nook in 2018

It’s true! It’s 2018, and Barnes & Noble just announced another Nook! You can preorder it today! All of these things are somehow  simultaneouslytrue. The Nook line has basically been a non-starter since 2016, back when the once ubiquitous bookseller offered up a dirt cheap $50 model. Even back then it felt like a strange anachronism.

The pricing on the new model is more inline with what you’d expect from a budget tablet, from, say Amazon. The Nook 10.1 runs $130. Aside from the titular screen size (at a middling 224 ppi), there’s really not much to talk about with what will almost certainly be a run of the mill budget Android tablet with 32GB of storage, two cameras and a headphone jack — which admittedly does qualify as a feature in 2018.  Barnes & Noble is calling it a “game changer,” because that’s what people do in press releases.
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Samsung’s social logo teases a folding phone ahead of announcement

All of the major players have held events over the past few months, but hardware season still has a few last gasps left. The Samsung Developer Conference happening this week in San Francisco isn’t likely to be a major launching pad for consumer electronics, but the company is expected to offer a glimpse into what’s to come.

Samsung’s long been a fan of teasing out big news ahead of launch, and all subtly has gone out the window with the folding logo the company’s adopted on social media. A report from Bloomberg later backed up by The Wall Street Journal has the company showing off a prototype of a phone with a foldable display this week.

The company is said to still be debating the specifics of the hardware at this late stage, and the product may only be glimpsed at in the form of an on-screen render or prototype.

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